It's 10 p.m. on a Sunday night.
Shouting and laughter echo across an empty parking lot. Music blasts from a small set of speakers. Harsh shadows dance wildly beneath the orange hue of lampposts.
On the roof of a nearly empty seven-story parking structure, two to three dozens of students dance.
"This parking lot is this fun little escape from all our classes and work responsibilities," says Michael Lim, the creative co-director of Break Through, a hip-hop dance crew at the University of Southern California. "It's just this kind of way for us to get away for two and a half hours and practice and dance with each other and have fun."
Every Sunday and Wednesday night from 8:00 to 10:30 p.m., the team practices on the roof of a campus parking structure. Lim has been on the team for two and a half years. This is his first semester in a leadership role.
"Since I joined the team, I've known Break Through to be this amazing family where dancers get together and share their passion with each other," Lim says. Break Through started ten years ago and is traditionally a noncompetitive performance team. But this year, Lim wanted to make some changes. "So I thought, we're a performance team, but it would be fun to share that passion that we have and do something with that in the community beyond USC's campus borders."
In April, Lim contacted Children's Hospital Los Angeles. He asked if there was a way the team could help the hospital.
"Our relationship with Break Through began when one of the members reached out to us," says Alexandra Field, the manager of the Expressive Arts and Therapies department at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "Partnership formed and we decided that it would be great for them to come in and share their talents."
Children's Hospital Los Angeles, or CHLA, is a nonprofit hospital that provides pediatric health care to about 107,000 children every year. Field works for in the Expressive Arts and Therapies department, which has been in existence for 24 years. Field says the department has changed significantly over time.
"We have the whole umbrella of the arts and health care," Field says. "One side of that is the therapy." Field says art, music and dance movement therapy can be prescribed to the patients. "You can order it in the chart—a doctor, a nurse, a social worker—someone who sees that a patient needs extra support. We can be that creative type of support that can help alleviate anxiety, depression, increase positive compliance with their treatment—the list goes on."
In addition to therapy, the department engages with the community. "Through artists and different groups, they come in and volunteer and share their gifts in the arts," Field says. "We're really fortunate to have so many groups that volunteer their time."
One way the hospital collaborates with the community is through a small colorful room tucked away in the hospital. It's called the Creative Oasis. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., the room opens to inpatients throughout the hospital.
"The experience at the Children's Hospital was definitely just a fun environment," says Kenya Collins, who co-directs Break Through with Lim. On the day Collins went, she went with three other dancers from Break Through. There were also three other volunteers who regularly volunteer at Children's Hospital.
"We were able to make paper flowers and different families came in and kids came in and it was just an awesome environment to be able to be doing things for these kids that they wouldn't regularly be able to do if they're at a hospital," she says. "We showed them a dance we had learned at Break Through and immediately all the children got up and started dancing and they kept saying, 'Do it again! Do it again!'"
"As far as Expressive Arts and Therapies, it's fully funded through philanthropy and donations," says Tim Houck, the Assistant Director of Development for the Children Hospital's Foundation. "We'd love to raise some good funds to go back into our program for staff and activities and equipment."
In addition to volunteering, Lim and Collins are trying to raise funds for the hospital. Through a series of benefit workshops they're calling "Hip Hop Heals," they collaborated with local professional dancers to teach choreography at a dance studio. "These are open to everyone in the L.A. environment—all students and all dancers who want to come out and support the cause," Collins says. "So it's actually dual action. You're dancing and learning, but you're also supporting a greater community."
This year, the group has set out to reach a $2000 goal. They started a support page on the hospital's website. Through word of email, social media blasts and word of mouth, they hope to hit that goal.
The crew's pinnacle event of the year is their bi-annual free showcase where 600 to 1,000 come to watch their performance. "We thought, why not do something with all of those eyes?" Lim says. He hopes to get the word out at the event and raise some funds through a raffle.
"Finding this program was amazing because we can offer these kids this exact same experience that we have twice a week at dance practice to them twice a week at their little Creative Oasis," Lim says. "I see us supporting the hospital for a bunch of semesters to come. How often do you get the chance to do something that you really love and help people at the same time?"